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Grant Cohn: 49ers' weak pass rush gives Packers hope

GREEN BAY, Wis. -#8212; The 49ers can beat the Packers, have beaten the Packers, know how to beat the Packers, should beat the Packers and probably will beat the Packers on Sunday.

But don't count out the Packers just yet. A few factors work in their favor.

The first factor is their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. That's an easy one. He's still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, he plays behind the second-best pass blocking offensive line in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, and he faces a vulnerable 49ers pass defense.

Yes, vulnerable. The 49ers' pass rush has disappeared. Since Week 12, Aldon Smith hast just two sacks and Ahmad Brooks has zilch. According Pro Football Focus, Brooks has been one of the worst outside linebackers in the NFL since Week 12. Before that, he was one of the best outside linebackers, so you have to wonder if he's playing through an injury. And one former coach told me he has bad pass rushing technique. "No technique," is how he referred to it.

Week 16, the 49ers gave up a 102 passer rating to Matt Ryan before he forced his final pass of the game over the middle into double coverage and got intercepted. And Week 17, the 49ers gave up a 113 passer rating to Carson Palmer from the second quarter on. Those are long stretches of bad pass defense against quarterbacks who aren't in Rodgers' league.

And the 49ers played those games with all of their cornerbacks. Against the Packers, they could be down two. Carlos Rogers pulled his hamstring in the fourth quarter last week, and his replacement at nickel back, Eric Wright, pulled his hamstring in practice on Thursday. Wright's replacement, Perrish Cox, gave up a touchdown catch against the Packers Week 1.

The Packers use three-wide-receiver formations on more than three-quarters of their offensive plays. Cox will have to play most of the game and match up with the Packers' slot receiver, Randall Cobb, whom Cox cannot cover man to man. The 49ers will have to use mostly zone coverages, and that doesn't work against a great quarterback like Rodgers. He can beat zone coverages in his sleep. If the 49ers' pass rush doesn't get to him quickly, he'll complete 70 percent of his passes.

The Packers scored 28 points against the 49ers Week 1 at Candlestick, and 31 points against the 49ers in the playoffs last season. The Packers should be able to score 30 points again, especially at Lambeau Field.

Can the 49ers score 30 points?

Probably.


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